Every society is destined
to face the problems of looking after the welfare of the sick, the weak, the destitute and
the needy. All societies are alike in this respect. One way of assessing the status of a
society on the road to civilisation is the value accorded to an individual and his basic
human needs. These have not always received the attention they deserve in the planning of
economics, particularly in developing countries. Most of the available resources are
consumed by defence needs and pressing demands for technological progress. Programmes for
development in the social sector stay a long way behind mainly because of financial
constraints. Special efforts are, therefore, needed to mobilise community resources to
initiate and develop programmes for the welfare of the weak and the disadvantaged members
of the society.
Edhis mother died when he was 19. His personal experience made him think of thousands and millions, suffering like his mother, around with nobody to look after them. He thought that he had a call to help these people. He had a vision of chains of welfare centres and hospitals that could be opened to alleviate the pain of those suffering from illness and neglect. He also thought of the in-human treatment meted out to the mentally ill, the insane and the disabled persons.
Even at this early age, he felt personally responsible for taking on the challenge of developing a system of services to reduce human miseries. The task was huge he had no resources. But it was some thing that he had to do even if he had to walk to the streets if he had to beg for this purpose.
Edhi and his family migrated to Pakistan in 1947. In order to earn his living, Abdul Sattar Edhi initially started as a peddler, later became a commission agent selling cloth in the wholesale market in Karachi.
After a couple of years, he left this occupation and with the support of some members of his community decided to establish a free dispensary. He became involved in this charity work. However, soon his personal vision of a growing and developing system of multifarious services made him decide to establish a welfare trust of his own and named it as "Edhi Trust".
An appeal was made to the public for funds. The response was good, and Rs.200,000/- were raised. The range and scope of work of Edhi Trust expanded with remarkable speed under the driving spirit of the man behind it. A maternity home was established and emergency ambulance service was started in the sprawling metropolis of Karachi with a population of over 10 million.
More donations were received as peoples confidence in the activities of the Trust grew. With the passage of time, masses gave him the title of the" Angel of Mercy."
Abdul Sattar Edhi was married in 1965 to Bilquis, a nurse who worked at the Edhi dispensary. The couple have four children, two daughters and two sons. Bilquis runs the free maternity home at the headquarter in Karachi and organises the adoption of illegitimate and abandoned babies. The husband-wife team has come to share the common vision of single minded devotion to the cause of alleviation of human sufferings and a sense of personal responsibility to respond to each call for help, regardless of race, creed or status.
Edhi involves himself in every activity at Edhi Foundation from raising funds to bathing corpses. Round the clock he keeps with him an ambulance which he drives himself and makes rounds of the city regularly. On finding a destitute or an injured person any where on the way, he escorts him to the Relief Centre where immediate attention is given to the needy person. Inspite of his busy work schedule with the Foundation, Edhi finds enough time to spare with the residents of the orphanages called "Edhi Homes". He is very found of playing and laughing with the children. A short strongly built man in his early seventies with a flowing beard and a ready smile, Edhi is popularly called "Nana" (Grandfather) by the residents of "Edhi Homes".
Despite his enormous fame and the vast sums of money that passes through his hands, Edhi adheres to a very simple and modest life style. He and his family live in a two room apartment adjacent to the premises of Foundations headquarter. Neither Edhi nor Bilquis receives any salary. They live on the income from government securities that Edhi bought many years ago to take care of their personal needs for the rest of their lives, thereby freeing them to devote single mindedly to their missionary work.
He shuns publicity for the fear of becoming haughty. As the credibility and fame grew and the name of Edhi became a house-hold word, people started approaching him for becoming chief guest on special occasions.
In an interview given to a journalist in Lahore in 1991, Edhi said,"I want to request the people not to invite me to social gatherings and inaugural ceremonies. This only wastes my time which is wholly devoted to the well being of our people."
Although Edhi has a traditional Islamic background, he has an open and progressive mind on a number of sensitive social issues. He strongly supports the notion of working women. Of the 2,000 paid workers of the Edhi Foundation around 500 are women. They work in various capacities in-charges of Edhi centres, heads of maternity homes and dispensaries and office workers. More-over, several women volunteers help Edhi Foundation in fund raising. Edhi encourages women to do all sorts of work without differentiation.
A. Sattar Edhi has spent over 45 years of his life in the service of humanity. He as established, more or less single handedly, a national welfare network, the Edhi Foundation (EF), which operates from a small headquarter, in a poor locality of Karachi.
The simplicity of central office is amazing in view of the wide range of the nation-wide services co-ordinated by Edhi personally with the help of telephones and a handful of assistants. It is, therefore, not easy to manage the strange mixture of complexity of operations and use of administrative communication channels with the limited staff. This has inevitably resulted in the centralisation of policy decisions.
However, with the general spread of the services to all parts of the country and an increasing awareness of the public, the way has been paved for greater involvement of communities in the management of welfare services. Edhi displays a remarkable stamina and energy at the advanced age of seventy to keep himself informed about all activities of the Foundation in all parts of Pakistan. He travels in Pakistan and abroad extensively for this purpose and conveys a feeling of being there, when needed.
Edhi Foundation is a story of constantly evolving enterprise, infinite faith in the Almighty, perseverance and dedication of its founder. There are many ways in which the benefits of the missionary work of Edhi Foundation can be highlighted:
The broad ideological base provided by these aspects of the Foundations work has helped to develop several innovative approaches for community welfare services in Pakistan, which include
The dynamic nature and the range of social
services provided by Edhi Foundation makes it different from other similar organisations
in Pakistan and abroad. No other welfare organisation in the country is as active at the
grassroots level as is the Edhi Foundation.
Edhi highway centres are a fine example of this
approach where community centres are being established on highways across the country at
every 25 kilometres. Edhi Foundation plans to spend the money raised within a city and
develop services in the same city through local funding. Through this mode each city will
not only be able to identify with the project, but also develop a sense of healthy
competition with other cities to raise more funds.
Secondly, Edhi believes that reliance on agencies of the state breeds dependence. He aims to establish a social welfare system in Pakistan which is self-supporting and has the capacity to respond to human needs.
Edhi emphasises the importance of safeguarding the basic human rights, regardless of "religion, caste or creed." My religion is humanitarianism which is the basis of ever religion in the world.", Says Edhi. He has persisted upon his mission of humanitarianism for the past forty five years, and is therefore popular among followers of all the existing religious sects in Pakistan.
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Research work and
Interview by Engr. Iqbal A. Khan
Artwork by ContactPakistan.com
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